Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Who Speaks for Reformed Baptists? – Part 1

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 16, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Soon there will be confirmation hearings on a new Justice for the United States Supreme Court.  Politics and partisanship will most likely take center stage in the hearings.  But more important than the person eventually seated will be the Constitution of the United States which they are sworn to uphold.

While Supreme Court Justices are very important, they, like Presidents, come and go, while the Constitution remains.  We can have poor justices, unwise justices, and even corrupt justices.  However, the Constitution, even when interpreted poorly (e.g. Roe v Wade), still has the role to function as an overall safeguard to our nation.

I choose this analogy, because in our Reformed Baptist churches, the 1689 Confession holds a position similar to our United States Constitution, and stands as a solid rock of doctrinal unity and stability.  While many churches claim to be Bible-believing, a congregation that sincerely holds this confession possesses a safe, well-defined, and time-tested guard against heresy.

Pastors and elders may come and go.  However, when a congregation requires that a pastor promises adherence to the confession as part of his ordination vows, with the attendant promise that an elder would voluntarily resign should he change his view, the church has a built in safeguard against error.

Differences in style may come and go.  Peripheral issues and emphases may change from eldership to eldership within a congregation.  But a church holding steadfastly to the confession, should be much the same one hundred years from now as it is today in the essential matters of the faith.

I am not aware of any self-consciously Reformed Baptist Church, in America, that has held tenaciously to the 1689 LBCF for the past one hundred years, so, we have no working model to study or examine.  There is a natural tendency for individuals and churches to change and swing, at times, like a pendulum, some more and some less.  For instance, in your own particular area, there is probably a church that tried to follow the “Willow Creek model”, moved on to the “Purpose-Driven model”, and may have now morphed into the more “missional” (see “Emergent” or “Semi-emergent”) model.  If they have a lack of success there, where will they go next?

Churches will follow a model, and there is a host of models from which to choose.  There are denominational models and trendy models.  Many of the popular models are “personality” driven, with one key figure as the leading spokesman.  One model is set forth as “cutting edge” and “revolutionary” today, and the congregation is full of excitement.  But inevitably they find themselves, maybe twenty-five years later, with a duller cultural edge and left defending their own traditions. Reformed Baptist Churches are not exempt from this pendulum effect.

Our brother, Jim Savastio, has written an excellent blog on this very site entitled “Night of the Living Bloggers”.  In it he details the natural tendency bloggers (and all of us in general – blogging just makes it quicker, easier and more publicly vitriolic) have to tear down the guy who doesn’t fully represent us, to snipe at him and pick him apart.  He is correct.

The other side of the coin is who DOES represent us as the voice that speaks for Reformed Baptists today?  Interestingly, we find ourselves as a movement that doesn’t have a well-known public “voice” like John Piper, John McArthur, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll or R.C. Sproul.  We can find major points of agreement with these men, but there are also points of disagreement we have, as Reformed Baptists, with each one.  It also should be noted that none of those men listed (and we could have listed many more) would describe himself as a Confessional Reformed Baptist.

Who represents us, as Reformed Baptists, as the quintessential pastor or ministry?  We have very capable men and some exemplary churches.  However, we haven’t had the kind of “superstar” minister that defines some movements.  Along the way, some men and ministries have been profitably followed.  At other times, we have found that imitation is not always the highest form of flattery.  In addition, as the number of Reformed Baptists has continued to grow (and this growth has been startling during the past twenty years!) we have become more and more diverse.

In my next entry, I will try to answer the question of who best represents us as Reformed Baptists, and what we can do to give our movement stability as we continue to progress into the coming decades.

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
www.sgbc-ontario.us
  1. Thank you Steve for the entry, I will be looking forward to the answer of what we look for, or who we look to as a “voice” for Confessional Reformed Baptists. Star power is fine, but staying or steadfast power I suspect will be more lasting. It seems that Semper Reformada is taking on a whole new meaning, without anyone defining it, yet it is the rally cry of the Young, Restless, and …

  2. Looking forward to this series of posts! The more I learn about Reformed and Particular Baptists, the more I see that amidst all the important things that unite us, there are differences as well, some important and others not so much (which seems to be the main issues): Spurgeon and Gill, Booth and Fuller, etc.

    Although, if I had to choose the person to represent us, I would say that it’s the godly man or woman sitting in the congregation eager to hear the pure milk of the Word and in such a way that Christ is magnified and we are further conformed into His image. It’s that person who trusts in the goodness, wisdom, and sovereignty of God even though they go through various trials and tribulations.

    My 2 cents.

  3. Excellent and very timely message. I look forward to future blogs on this subject. Perhaps in time God will raise up just a person as you mentioned.

  4. “Who represents us, as Reformed Baptists, as the quintessential pastor or ministry?”…

    I think it would be time misspent in searching for his name. It will be found in a history book in about fifty years.

  5. Marie your wrote “if I had to choose the person to represent us, I would say that it’s the godly man or woman sitting in the congregation eager to hear the pure milk of the Word”

    GREAT WORDS! We must reject those who would despise our pews (or chairs) and mock faithful attendance at public worship and our people as being “pew patatos!”

    You must make your pastor a happy man.

    dc

  6. “In addition, as the number of Reformed Baptists has continued to grow (and this growth has been startling during the past twenty years!) we have become more and more diverse.”

    I would be interested in your expansion on this too…it is an interesting observation.

  7. Dear brethren in Christ,

    I appreciate the fidelity to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would state though the line “and may have now morphed into the more “missional” (see “Emergent” or “Semi-emergent”) model” is quite inaccurate. Missional is not a emergent or semi-emergent buzzword. In fact I would state emphatically that not one of the signatures or representatives of the Baptist Confession of Faith would have a problem with what missional is. Missional is the mind set of living like a missionary (a ambassador of the Kingdom of Christ) within your culture. The difference between missionary and missional is a missionary goes into a culture without any Christian witness. Missional is going into a culture with some nascent (Europe, Asia) or cultural form of Christianity (Americas, Africa) already exist. To see this theme developed watch the advance09 webcast of that conference.

    Let us use terms correctly when possible so we don’t “tear down the guy who doesn’t fully represent us, to snipe at him and pick him apart” or may I add characterize them inaccurately.

    Respectfully,
    Will Adair
    lead elder @ crossmarkchurch.com

  8. Brother Will,

    Using the term “missional” is indeed difficult and almost impossible to define. That is why I qualified it with “Emergent or Semi-emergent” to show the groups I was addressing.

    A simple google search of the term “missional” will show the wide range and diversity of a word that is relatively new to Christianity. The article that will appear from Christianity Today (likely to appear on anyone’s front page) is especially helpful, IMHO.

    I would like to hear more of what you have to think of how correctly “missional” is defined from that article, Will.

    Sincerely,
    Steve M.

  9. Hi Pastor Steve,

    Would you post a link to the article if that complies with the rules of this blog?

    Best regards,
    Christian

  10. Christian,

    It is an html article, and I am not sure we are allowed to post links like that. However, a google search for “missional” should easily get you there. It is just one of literally thousands of articles you could read — and there are many many many variant forms of “missional”. It seems to me to be a term that has yet to be firmly defined.

    Steve

  11. Pastor Steve,

    Gotcha. I will root through and find it. I am curious about the specific article you cited. Thanks for your reply.

    Best,
    Christian

  12. Pastor Steve

    Interesting topic. Baptist history and identity (of any stripe) always seems a murky proposition. A keen insistence on congregational autonomy IMHO contributes to the difficulty in which all Baptists find themselves when attempting to find some historical continuity. I doubt you would find many churches at the time of the 1689 who held to or much less survived 100 years. Traditions with overarching authority: Presbyterianism and Anglicanism, tend to have a much greater level of governance and therefore a definable lineage since those systems superceed local autonomy. It’s no wonder then in my opinion that a singular “star,” cannot be identified since total agreement is not easily attained. To illustrate we find Reformed Baptists who belong to open or closed congregations, those holding to a confession and those that do not, 18th century Reformed Baptist who introduced “hypercalvinism,” Puritan congregationalists who held to the halfway covenant and those who did not and so on. Variety and diversity are probably the most identifiable attributes outside of adult baptism and regenerate church membership, that are part and parcel of Baptist heritage. With these issues in mind I look forward to hearing your suggestions of how vitality and stability can be increased for the church at SGRB.
    in the bonds of Christ
    rob

  13. Brother Steve,

    Thank you for your charitable and kind words of reply.

    I have seen the Christianity today article but I would simply say that any word we use be it missional, trinity, reformed, etc that are not defined in the Bible must be defined by biblical concepts inspired by our Scriptures. Though missional is a new word its idea is part of the gospel message itself. I would go so far to say there is only one true definition of being a missional Christian. There are many forms of (or claims to being) missional just like there are many gospels (that is so called gospels ~Gal 1:7). All but one happens to of course be wrong.

    The confusion over missional is that groups that are emergent and semi-emergent have co-opted the language to define their purposes. They are also vocal. Emerging churches (those that are not emergent or semi-emergent) are the theologically conservative churches that are often confused by traditional churches to be emergent or semi-emergent which are as a rule moderate to liberal in their theology.

    Missional as a word has its meaning in written form from the mission of God. The authors state that ” The decline of Christendom provided the church an opportunity, they said, to rediscover its identity as a people sent by God into the world as gospel witnesses.” They defined this as missional.

    I would say that to define the term correctly we start with the authors of the term and discover what they meant and see who is applying it. I think if one where to look at the teachings coming from the emerging church networks (say the Advance09 conference available on the Desiring God blog) you could find the right view of what it means to be biblically missional.

    A vanilla definition of Missional, biblically speaking, is living like a missionary in your own culture. I will be fleshing this out more on my blog soon. I don’t want to hijack the conversation of “who speaks for the reformed baptists” with a conversation on “what is missional.”

    Did I answer your question?

    Thank you,
    Will Adair

  14. Thank you, Will. Yes you did answer my question. For your context sake, I did a quick read of the book “The Hole in our Gospel” — which is the first book I have been exposed to that described itself as “missional”. That formed the basis of my broad-brushed allusion of moving from Willow Creek to Purpose Driven to Missional.

    Interestingly, the United Methodist Church in my town — is going through the 40 days of purpose. They have generally been known more for their emphasis on “interpretative dance”.

  15. “While Supreme Court Justices are very important, they, like Presidents, come and go, while the Constitution remains. We can have poor justices, unwise justices, and even corrupt justices. However, the Constitution, even when interpreted poorly (e.g. Roe v Wade), still has the role to function as an overall safeguard to our nation.

    I choose this analogy, because in our Reformed Baptist churches, the 1689 Confession holds a position similar to our United States Constitution, and stands as a solid rock of doctrinal unity and stability. While many churches claim to be Bible-believing, a congregation that sincerely holds this confession possesses a safe, well-defined, and time-tested guard against heresy.”

    An interesting analogy. So by this analogy it seems we need to beware of Roe v Wade style poor re-interpretations of our Confession of Faith and church constitutions?

  16. Obed

    You make a good point. The autonomous nature of our Baptistic congregations means a variety of interpretations could exist on a number of issues amongst cogregations. It’s our love of religious liberty coupled with a disdain for magesterial oversite (episopal or otherwise) that insure and promotes diversity of thought. It is the Baptist contribution to religious liberty and secular modernity.

  17. Steve, thank you for raising an interesting question. Speaking very generally (and with some notable exceptions), it’s been my observation that Reformed Baptists tend to be separatists by nature, often defined more by what they ARE NOT, rather than what they are. (i.e. “We are not Arminians, we are not Dispensationalists, we are not Seeker-Friendly…and we are certainly not Charismatics!”). Compared with some other circles, RBs tend to be high on doctrinal specificity but low on tolerance so they often fragment into even smaller groups among themselves. This makes it very difficult for just one man to “speak for” or epitomize the group.

    Put another way, perhaps the Lord would have Reformed Baptists learn more how to focus on what they have IN COMMON with men like Piper, Driscoll, Mahaney and others (and how these men DO speak for them in things most important) before He (God) might raise up a well-known public “voice” from among them.

  18. Just yesterday, I met a woman who is Lutheran (LCMS), and she asked me “What is a Reformed Baptist church like?” I said that we are a Gospel-centered church that desires to exalt the lordship of Christ in all areas of our lives. We believe that is the Word of God and the Spirit of God that changes the hearts of men. Our worship is simple, as we want to worship God in His way with sound preaching, hymns and psalms, and prayer. I was also telling her about the upcoming trip to the Dominican and sending one of our pastors to Zambia. I didn’t use the term “Calvinism” because it’s such a misunderstood term today, but my prayer is that she left thinking that Reformed Baptists are a group of Christians who love the Gospel, believe that Jesus is Lord, and are devoted to the Scriptures.

  19. Marie,

    Yes and Amen concerning your comments above.

    God Bless,
    Steve Clevenger

  20. I would hope we would not become too preoccupied with who represents us. The stress ought to be on whom we represent. Then perhaps we would find ourselves more charitable towards those who differ from us on the minor points and be more joyfully Christ-centered and less self-conscious believers.

  21. I enjoyed Brothers and Gordons comments. They mentioned two issues that are a part of the RB experience: seperatism (persecution complex) and self concious anxiety. These feature today are in some degree self imposed and a function of both social and theological perspectives on sanctification. These combined with the modern emphasis on theological immediacy make us an internally focused group which can lead to navel gazing as they both inferred. Arguably the danger of these features is in not being a part of the greater dialogue. Seperatism in the 21st century may lead to insignificance in a postmodern world.

  22. Dear Steve,

  23. Dear Steve,

    In regard to your comments concerning “Who speaks for us,” you mention several who would not claim to be confessional Reformed Baptists. My concern, on the other hand, are many who do claim to be confessional Reformed Baptists, and yet they pastor churches within minutes of each other. We have fragmented ourselves. And I believe that a major reason that we cannot agree about who speaks for us is that each fragment upholds a different man.

    We remember the passage, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos . . .” I think we would do well to remember Christ’s words in Mark 9:40 that he who is not against us is for us.

    Many do not properly appreciate the diversity which can exist within the office of elder. God has gifted men differenty. And ministries are designed around the diversities of the elders in any particular church. As a result, there are of necessity going to be ministerial differences among churches.

    How many preachers have been rejected, because they were not exactly like the men who preceded them? We must allow for diversity. We cannot assume that a spiritually productive ministry could be picked up from one local and transported to another with absolutely identical results. The Spirit sovereignly gifts men and designs ministries to accomplish His peculiar purposes. This has gone long, but I hope that it generates some thought and dialogue.

  24. Thank you George. I hope to show in part 2 the basis of our unity and how it can be maintained, even though personality types differ.

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